Army Sticks to Plan to Cut Guard’s Helo Fleet

Army Chief defended the service's plan to transfer 400 helicopters from the reserve to active component.

Air Force and Air Guard leaders went at each other’s throats two years ago over plans to cut reserve fleets in order to save the active duty. Now, it’s the Army’s turn.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno was on the defensive Thursday morning at a breakfast speech organized by the Association of the United States Army. He joked at the beginning of his speech that the Army wasn’t facing any problems that he could think of.

Of course, that is far from the case as the Army Guard is upset with Army service leaders over plans to transfer 400 helicopters — 200 AH-64 Apaches, OH-58 Kiowa scouts, and 100 UH-72 Lakota utility helos – from the Guard to the active component. Congress also effectively killed the Army’s top vehicle modernization priority, the Ground Combat Vehicle, last week when it slashed the Army’s budget request for the program from $592 million to $100 million.

Odierno was tepid in his response to Congress’ actions to essentially reduce the GCV to a research effort saying only that the Army was “hoping for a follow-on effort.” However, he stayed on the defensive regarding the Army’s helicopter restructuring plan.

“This is about affordability,” Odierno said. “We don’t have the money to sustain the system that we have, so we got to make the best use out of the aviation that we have. It’s simple. That’s the issue. It’s nothing else. People want to make it into something it isn’t.”

The Army chief has taken offense to what he’s described as Washington manufactured battles inside and outside his service. Last month, he said the supposed disagreement between the Army and Marine Corps over the Army’s future Pacific strategy that included Army helicopters landing on Navy ships was only a “Washington thing.”

However, Guard leaders outside Washington have taken to the media to blast Army leaders over their helicopter plan. The adjutant general of the Tennessee Guard told the Jackson Sun, a daily newspaper in Jackson, Tenn., that the Army’s plans would have a “tremendously negative impact on the Tennessee Guard.”

This is also not the only public battle Odierno has gotten into with the Guard in the past 30 days. During a speech at the National Press Club, Odierno said it would be unwise to think Guard units could replace active duty ones when considering readiness. Two days later, Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, fired back saying Guard units have proven the proficiency and effectiveness over the past ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan

The back and forth between the Army and the Guard even led to reports that the Pentagon had instructed the Army to stop briefing their plans to restructure its helicopter fleet.

Odierno did make sure to qualify his comments Thursday regarding the Army’s helicopter plan saying these decisions wouldn’t have been made unless the Army was under intentse pressure to reduce its budget.

Odierno said the Army’s need to restructure its aviation fleets stems from a $79 billion “bill” the service has to pay over the next five years, “so we have to organize ourselves in the most efficient, effective way possible.”